It’s Time to Feed the Morale of the LAPD

Showing our support and respect for police doesn’t mean we ignore or are unconcerned about abusive policing when or where it exists.
August 17, 2020
Photo by Getty Images

I was riding with Baila Romm to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Ahmanson Recruit Training Center in Westchester. Romm has served as a volunteer liaison between the Pico-Robertson Jewish community and the LAPD for 15  years. She’s also a past member of the Community Police Advisory Board and has helped to expand Neighborhood Watch networks in our area.

We were bringing lunch for 70 officers and civilian support staff: several pans of hot lasagna, eggplant parmesan and salads from Kosher Pizza Station. Women in the Pico-Robertson community baked cookies. It smelled really good in that car.

Then Romm’s phone rang. “Are you guys almost here? Everyone’s hungry.” Lisa Tofler, the only LAPD Orthodox female officer and a training officer, was checking in. We pulled up soon afterward and within a few minutes, officers were tucking into their catered meals with gusto, and al fresco. The training center has a very pleasant outdoor eating area.

This lunch was part of an ongoing effort to support the LAPD. Over the past two months, several women from our neighborhood have spearheaded these efforts to boost morale by bringing catered meals. One of them is Holly Magady, who found herself “sickened and very frustrated” by the spasm of anti-police protests and violence. “I had to stand up and do something concrete to show the police that so many in our community respect, admire and support them.”

Magady floated her idea with Romm, who also was planning to bring meals to the West Los Angeles police station, with her friend Dina Leeds. When word got out about their fundraising, contributions poured in from more than 80 families, enabling the women to continue their catering for many weeks for the West L.A. division and the training center. Other local women are fundraising separately and bringing meals to the Wilshire, North Hollywood and Beverly Hills police stations.

 If you see a cop, smile, wave or say “Thank you.”

At the training center, Magady had brought a poster-sized card with a thank-you message from the community, as well as dozens of personalized expressions of thanks from individuals by name. The officers repeatedly thanked us and also gave us thank-you cards.

Cuts to LAPD’s budget that take effect next year mean that more than 350 retiring officers  will not be replaced. Nor will 15 squad cars that were destroyed in the protests. The training center usually admits 30 to 40 new recruits every month, but will be able to accept only one or two new cohorts in 2021. Yet violent crimes, particularly murder, swelled by 23% in June across 23 major cities, compared with the same period last year, according to a crime analysis published by Forbes on Aug. 4. Forbes cited experts who theorized the cause might be the protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death while in police custody, the current economic downturn and the pandemic lockdown.

An LAPD vehicle burns after being set alight by protestors during demonstrations following the death of George Floyd on May 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. The vast majority of protestors demonstrated peacefully. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was taken into custody for Floyd’s death. Chauvin has been accused of kneeling on Floyd’s neck as he pleaded with him about not being able to breathe. Floyd was pronounced dead a short while later. Chauvin and 3 other officers, who were involved in the arrest, were fired from the police department after a video of the arrest was circulated. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Showing our support and respect for police doesn’t mean we ignore or are unconcerned about abusive policing when or where it exists. But the calls to defund police or make draconian cuts to police budgets already have shown to invite more crime. This is especially true in poorer and minority communities. In his June 11 opinion piece in USA Today, Erroll G. Southers, a Black former cop, former FBI agent and current director of the USC Safe Communities Institute, argued that the most likely cuts will be to community interaction programs that foster healthy relationships between police and minority members, who might otherwise encounter cops only in dangerous situations. The value of police in minority and poorer neighborhoods also is underscored by a Gallup poll released on Aug. 5, revealing that 81% of Black people polled wanted more policing, not less, as did 83% of Latinos. Only 19% of Black people wanted less policing in their neighborhoods.

(The defunding the police movement advocates reallocating funds that would have gone to police departments into non-policing forms of community support and public safety programs. The Los Angeles City Council voted on June 16 to study ways to slash the LAPD’s budget.)

I was thrilled to learn about these morale-boosting efforts organized by friends and eager to come along for a few of the deliveries. It was important to me to look these officers in the eye and tell them from my heart, “Thank you. We appreciate you, and we pray for your safety.”

During lunch, I sat with Sgt. Owen Berger, who trains recruits. “The media often report negative perceptions of the police, so any positive outreach from the community serves as a refreshing reminder to police officers that there is a majority of people who support them,” he said. “Even for small gestures, the effect on morale is immense, and it is like a breath of fresh air.”

As anti-Semitic attacks have grown more frequent and more menacing, Romm’s volunteer role has grown more vital. She has a public safety WhatsApp group, often fields calls and texts by community members, and can quickly access senior lead officers with questions and concerns about security.

“I can’t stand that the world is lumping the majority of good cops with the few bad ones,” she said. “I have known these officers for years. They are decent, kind human beings and their only thought is to protect and to serve in a tough world. They are my heroes.”

The morning after the October 2018 Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, one of Romm’s LAPD contacts called her at 6 a.m. to ask for the addresses of all of the West L.A. synagogues. Romm immediately compiled the list, and LAPD dispatched officers to keep an eye on our vulnerable community.

It’s quintessentially Jewish to express gratitude, and to do it with food. This inspired effort to show our support for the men and women in blue makes me proud to be part of this community.

If you see a cop, smile, wave or say “Thank you.” Offer to buy a meal, or at least a coffee if you’re in line at the same place. Mail a thank-you note to your precinct. The police are working harder than ever to support our safety. Now is our time to support them in return.

Judy Gruen’s latest book is “The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love With Faith.” She is a writing coach and book editor.

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